By Bette Scher || Staff Writer
Nothing is bigger than the American holiday known as the Superbowl. No event more quintessentially “American” than hordes of people shouting at televisions, hands gripping the buffalo dip, the other clutching the palm of another fellow fan as their favorite QB throws a fourth-down hail Mary. No sport exemplifies American exceptionalism more than the NFL–players like Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the subjects of intense idolization.
But for others, it’s people like Colin Kaepernick that carry more weight. Once thought of as merely an exceptional QB of the 49’ers, Kaepernick has, over time, grown to symbolize a merging dialogue surrounding race relations in the United States. By choosing to first take a knee in protest of systemic racism in America, Kaepernick has come to represent an anti-establishment, anti-racist dialogue, manifesting itself by unhappy NFL players and frustrated owners. Owners have been so frustrated, actually, at Kaepernick’s attempts to “politicize” football, that him and others who kneel could be potentially subject to being benched, or even worse, getting suspended from their teams, and main sources of monetary income.
In Kaepernick’s act of defiance, he symbolizes increasing cognitive dissonance in the meaning of football in 2019 America. Of course, there are traditional meanings associated with football and Superbowl hysteria–raucous celebrations of booze, food, friends, and family, those of which have become ingrained in popular culture as an American staple. However, there is also existing dialogue pointing to the fact that cookouts, tailgates, and buffalo dip will not solve the political unrest currently afoot.
In the same vein, there are those who call out the NFL for institutionally supporting racism and racist norms–both in their refusal to rename arguably racist team, the Washington Redskins, and their choice to publicly shun Colin Kaepernick and his supporters for commenting on political unrest in the United States. In this, the NFL has taken a passive stance on politics, politics which dictate the opinions of a substantial amount of those who identify as fans of the NFL. Who does the NFL support? No clear theme or statement has really emerged other than the certainty that they wish to remain apolitical.
Does Colin Kaepernick, and others, have the right to “politicize” football and bigger events like the Superbowl? Is it the doing of one man on his knee or is he just representing an already changing country? In this arguable transition, what would this indicate about the transitioning meaning of the Superbowl as an American staple? Is the Superbowl only meant to provide sports entertainment without any additional sociopolitical commentary? Or is the Superbowl, like many other events with nationalized attention, a platform to bring attention to political unrest?
I would argue that the key to these questions is in the Halftime show. Past artists like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and even Bruno Mars brought some level of social commentary to an otherwise unrelated platform, infusing sports, music, and politics into one night. Performances by these artists provided popular culture with political gold–providing fruitful commentary on the state of the Union, domestic unrest, racism, and other sociopolitical issues. However, the choice to pick Maroon 5, arguably bringing the most anti-political performance crossing the Halftime stage in over five years, demonstrates the dissonance afoot.
The NFL deems “football” to mean buffalo dip, drunken tailgating, and cheerleaders. A growing population of Americans are saying no–these things are not enough. No longer are talks of race, sex, and protest taboo or off the table. The underwhelmed national response to Maroon 5 shows that times are changing. Football and its inherited meaning are changing. Get with the times or get off the stage.
Sophomore Bette Scher is a staff writer, her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.